2010-2011 – New Shows

I watched 30ish pilots this year, most of which I gave full reviews of. Last year I did 27 and this year most of the extra ones come from some random British series that I watched but didn’t pick up. Even with giving up on comedy pilots for the most part it was still a bit of a slog frankly with an awful lot of mediocrity out there.

Things I watched:

  • Blue Bloods – Frankly not very good – an interesting concept, but badly written. Just saved by the wonderful Tom Selleck
  • Downton Abbey – excellent fun, perfect for Sunday evening family viewing
  • Game of Thrones – Very entertaining and an impressive production
  • Mad Dogs – A great cast in a relatively mediocre production, thankfully very short
  • Outcasts – Entertaining, but massively flawed writing and plot holes. Not massively disappointed that it was cancelled.
  • Terriers – Charming, hilarious, interesting, entertaining and criminally cancelled
  • The Big C – hilarious and moving
  • The Walking Dead – The novelty made me watch it, but it was horribly cliché and flat

Two things jump out at me from that list. The fist thing is that genre shows get a bit of a free pass from me in that they only have to be not awful to get me to watch them. The second thing is there’s only one network show on the list, and even that one wasn’t very good. Other than that everything is either British, or on cable in the US; and they’re all short seasons. That’s not good, not good at all.

Might watch

  • Harry’s Law – the worrying preachiness of the pilot put me off, but given it survived a season, Kathy Bates might lure me back again
  • Hawaii Five-O – bright and entertaining popcorn action, I meant to watch it but I failed to catch it as it went past. I do intend to catch up though
  • Falling Skies – I enjoyed the pilot, but haven’t actually got around to watching the rest of it yet
  • Bedlam – Terrible Sky drama where Will Young was the best thing about it. I still have the last two episodes on the Sky box but haven’t quite got desperate enough to watch them.

Might’ve watched if they hadn’t been cancelled, might pick them up on dvd at some point

  • Chicago Code – OK, unremarkable, and then cancelled
  • Detroit 1-8-7 – solidly entertaining police procedural in a sea of mediocrity. Cancelled anyway
  • Hellcats – The pilot at least was entertaining in an awful Glee kind of way, it aired on MTV over here which was deeply annoying. Then it was cancelled.
  • Off the Map – It wasn’t as good as it wanted to be, but I enjoyed the pilot. It never seemed to make it to the UK at all due to its early cancellation I guess.

Not my thing

  • Being Human – not as good as the UK version, and I’m already 2 years behind on that
  • Boardwalk Empire – beautifully shot and acted and all that, but too slow
  • Exile – well acted and intriguing, I meant to watch the rest of the series but it disappeared from iplayer too fast and I wasn’t devastated
  • Nikita – felt like it was trying very hard (and maybe even succeeding) at being the next Alias, but given I never got round to watching that series I didn’t feel like committing to this one.

Just not very good

Body of Proof
Criminal Minds: Suspect Behaviour
Law & Order: Los Angeles
Lone Star
My Generation
No Ordinary Family
Outlaw
The Cape
The Event
The Shadowline
The Whole Truth
Vera

Not a great year
I just don’t think this was a very good year for new television. Looking back at last year’s freshman there are a lot of stand-outs, both critical successes like Justified, The Good Wife and Treme and ratings hits like Glee, NCIS: LA and The Vampire Diaries. There are a few direct comparisons this year (Boardwalk Empire is this year’s Treme, Hawaii Five-O this year’s NCIS:LA), but overall there’s an awful lot of mediocre going on.

Where’s the creativity? Even things that television executives hail as new and exciting aren’t really. The Walking Dead is a remake of just about every zombie film out there, Game of Thrones is a bog standard fantasy epic – Lord of the Rings for the smaller screen with less pointy ears. Next year’s most hotly anticipated show seems set to follow the trend with Terra Nova bringing Jurassic Park to the TV.

Superheroes are out – there was a flurry of superhero shows and none of them were any good. People keep trying to find the magic of the early season of Heroes and the massive success that’s being found by Marvel and DC Comics at the cinema, but no one’s managed it yet. Here’s an idea, stop pissing off Joss Whedon and get him to do one, after he’s done making millions with The Avengers that is.

Procedurals ain’t doing so well either. I enjoy procedurals but it’s been a while since a good one came along. Maybe the market is still too saturated, because even the ones that had potential and critical praise couldn’t find enough viewers to make a go of it.

Finally, they’re still all desperately trying to find the next Lost – people keep trying, but the high concept stuff just doesn’t seem to catch. High concept is something that can be explained in a sentence (“Lost: a plane crashes on island”, “Inception: you can enter and control people’s dreams”). This year’s main attempt, The Event, was a little too high concept I think “Something happens” really is a bit too high, I gave up after about four episodes – for a show called The Event – something should bloody well happen.

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The Upfronts: Fox

Another year, another set of upfronts. Fox is a channel I approach with considerable nervousness, I’ve never forgiven them for cancelling some of my favourite shows (Wonderfalls and Firefly for example). But on the flipside, they’re also the channel that actually commissioned those series, and recently they’ve actually given shows like Dollhouse and Fringe more chances than maybe their ratings deserve.

What’s out
The Chicago Code – This never really got enough viewers for it to survive and another Shaun Ryan show bites the dust. I liked the pilot well enough, but am not sure if I’ll bother picking up the rest of the series now. I was more upset about the loss of his other show, the superb Terriers.
The Good Guys – Despite the dream pairing of Bradley Whitford and Colin Hanks, this wasn’t my kind of show, and the ratings would seem to indicate it wasn’t other people’s either.
Lie to Me – Now this one I am cross about. I feel this show never really got a fair shot with mucked about scheduling and minimal promotion. Tim Roth was superb in this, raising it up above other similar procedurals like The Mentalist. It could have been improved with more development of the supporting characters, but this is one of only very few cancellations that I have any kind of strong feelings about.
Also off are Human Target (not awful, but just a bit crappy), Breaking In (Christian Slater thing), Running Wilde and Traffic Light (comedies) and Lone Star which is probably the winner of this year’s “critics’ hero”to “ratings zero” award.

What’s back
There are no surprises that Bones and Glee are back, nor the animations that I have no real idea about but see people talking about a lot (American Dad, Bob’s Burgers, The Cleveland Show, Family Guy and The Simpsons). Also Raising Hope is back which I hear good things about.

Fringe’s renewal came a bit of a surprise to everyone, and I actually really appreciate Fox’s commitment to this show despite it’s not great ratings. I wouldn’t have thought there’ll be another chance next year, so I hope the writers take the opportunity to produce an amazing season that concludes the story.

House will also be back, but due to massive budget cuts it will be without Cuddy (news story) – which as far as I’m concerned may actually improve the show. It will almost certainly be the last season of the show and I’m not overly devastated about that, hopefully the writers will make the most of the opportunity to go out on a high.

What’s new
Terra Nova – The long anticipated and rather spectacular looking Stephen Spielberg action adventure thing. Looks like an extended Jurassic Park. I can’t wait.

Alcatraz – JJ Abrahms’ new mysteryish show. It’s starring Lost’s Jorge Garcia and Jurassic Park’s Sam Neill and the trailer efficiently hooked me in. Don’t get overly excited, it’s not on until mid-season.

The Finder – the Bones spinoff which was backdoor piloted got an official pickup. It’s got some potential, but also some really irritating tropes (bloody awful accents, know it all characters, intellectual tough guy) that will need toning down. Another midseason.

Plus a couple more animations (Napoleon Dynamite and Allen Gregory) and two utterly hideous looking comedies (The New Girl and I Hate My Teenage Daughter). And… The X Factor. Lucky Americans, no reason we should suffer alone I guess.

LinksThe TV Addict (thanks for the youtube links), TV Squad, and The Futon Critic

Pilot Review: The Chicago Code

The Chicago Code is one of those mid-season shows that has been talked about in hushed tones for months, hell nearly a year since it was announced that the creator of The Shield (Shawn Ryan – also of The Unit) would be creating a new police drama. Since then his other show (Terriers) has been and gone in a deluge of critical praise and a drought of popular ratings.

So. I liked it. I was entertained. It was okay.

You want more? Ah… that’s where it gets tricky. ‘cos the more I think about the show the more problems I find with it.

I liked police detective, a grizzly curmudgeon who never rose above the rank of detective but is smart and good at his job, respected by his colleagues and hiding his values and heart behind a his grumpiness. He was entertaining, he had spark and depth. Unfortunately that was about where the positive characters ended. The younger characters are pretty basic in the pilot, the smart and eager young sidekick, the ‘tough-on-the-outside-squishy-in-the-middle’ beat cop niece and her gung-ho partner.

The biggest problem though is Jennifer Beals’ character, the “first female police superintendent in the history of Chicago”. The moment her little voice-over said that I flinched. I have a loathing for this kind of “first female to do X” thing, particularly given that the key thing about her really isn’t her sex, it’s her disconnection from the status quo. She’s forced on us as someone who wants change, who sits in a posh restaurant eating by herself because she’s so driven that she has no friends, who’s not afraid to rattle some cages, who wants her city to be great blah blah blah. She felt flat and unrealistic. But that’s okay because the evil politician she’s up against did everything but stroke a white cat and monologue his plans to kill puppies.

As I said at the top of the review, I enjoyed it when I was watching it. It’s only writing this review that made me acknowledge the massive weaknesses the pilot displayed. So, thanks for that.

The Chicago Code starts on Sky 1, March 2011.

Other reviews
TV Squad: “The show is more challenging than your typical broadcast cop show, but not so challenging as to alienate viewers as FOX’s last ambitious drama, ‘Lone Star,’ did. So no, ‘The Chicago Code’ is not as great or as compelling as ‘The Shield,’ but it’s already a pretty enthralling cop drama. We can expect nothing less from Ryan.”

CliqueClack: “The long wait for ‘The Chicago Code’ is finally over. Did Shawn Ryan’s latest show live up to the hype? You bet your deep dish pizza it did.”

TV Addict: “it simply packs too much into a single episode, crisscrossing between the two before either gets a real chance to come into focus. And for all its characters, few so far are beyond the standard cop drama fare”

Links: Official website, wikipedia, TV.com, imdb